Saturday, March 05, 2011

Green silliness: Congressional edition

Fresh off their 2006 mid-term election victories that handed them control of Congress, Rep. Nancy Pelosi & Co. undertook efforts to make the place more eco-friendly/green/sustainable or whatever catchphrase one prefers. Particular attention was given to the House cafeterias, where Democrats sought to eliminate the twin environmental scourges of styrofoam cups and plastic eating utensils.

In a story rich with symbolism, however, today's Washington Post notes one small problem with the initiative: it didn't make any sense:
For years, the Capitol's utensils, plates and cups were made out of disposable Styrofoam and plastic. But that changed when Democrats took over the House in 2007: As part of a larger program to "Green the Capitol," they decreed that the cutlery should be composted along with the food. In late 2008, the Senate agreed.

The utensils felt like plastic, but they were actually made from a derivative of corn. The plates were paper. The hot food containers were made from sugar cane. After use, all of it was mashed into a wet pulp, then trucked 61 miles to Carroll County, Md.

There, it slowly turned to compost over six to eight months and was sold.

According to House administrators, it worked: In April 2010, a report said the cafeterias had become "models of sustainability" and celebrated more than 650 tons of waste diverted from landfills.

But in private, House officials were told of problems with the program, which cost $475,000 a year. The whole point of the "Green the Capitol" initiative - which also included recycling office paper and installing more-efficient light bulbs - had been to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

But an internal report from the House's inspector general found that composting dinnerware actually used more energy, because of the pulper and the hauling trucks. And, the inspector general found, added energy use meant that there was only a small savings in emissions. All told, the equivalent of taking just a single car off the road. (Democrats dispute that finding.)

Down in the cafeterias, diners had another reason to be unhappy: The cutlery seemed to start composting early. Like in the middle of lunch.

The knives "could cut butter," said Rick Mulligan, 49, an elevator mechanic at the Capitol who was having lunch in a Senate cafeteria on Friday.

"Warm butter," added Justin Van Bavel, 30, a fellow mechanic.

"If you took them, you had to take about three or four of them" to replace those that broke or lost their shape, said Michael Schirippa, 62, an elevator operator. After five minutes in a cup of 180-degree soup, a spoon was weakened enough to bend.
Not only does the story illustrate the nonsensical nature of the leftist enthusiasm with "going green," but as an added bonus we also find evidence of the bizarre fixation with the Koch brothers that has taken root since last year (largely due to this New Yorker article) in Democratic circles:
Democrats also criticized the new supplier of polystyrene cups, saying a top executive there was linked to the Koch brothers, who have given money to prominent GOP causes. House officials and the cup company denied that played a role in any decision.
To provide additional context, Democrats are upset that a former Koch Industries executive who now owns a company that produces styrofoam cups has been given the contract to supply cups to the Capitol lunchroom. The only problem with such conspiracy-mongering, however, is that it doesn't comport with the actual facts:
GOP leaders did not handpick Wurtz's company, however -- that decision rested with Restaurant Associates, which manages the cafeteria.

"Decisions over what suppliers to use were done solely at the discretion of Restaurant Associates," Salley Wood, spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee.
Prizing symbolism over substance on environmental matters and a mindless obsession with the Koch brothers -- meet the base of today's Democratic party.

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